Successful Societies Research ProgressResearch into issues of inequality is as essential to health and wellbeing as research in medicine or nutrition. It is important for understanding why some societies are able to support their population in the face of multiple threats. By exposing the mechanisms that perpetuate inequality and studying how to build effective and empowering cultural and social frameworks, researchers hope to find a path toward greater and more equitable prosperity.
This task is challenging and complex. Circumstances vary from province to province, community to community, and even from one city district to another. There is no single answer to the question of what makes a society successful. What works in one place may not work in another. CIFAR’s work takes a broad approach to societies, studying social arrangements among groups all over the world.
Program member Jane Jenson is looking for ways to improve the quality of life through her work on “social investment” and programs that advance it around the world. Social investment entails investing in early childhood care and education and helping people transition from one stage of life to the next. Dr. Jenson, who is based at the University of Montreal, has been an advisor on such issues, not only for the Canadian government but for the European Union and the Swedish and British governments.
Issues of multiculturalism have been another focus of research within the group. Program member Will Kymlicka studies the efforts of international organizations to create standards for treating minority cultures. His work weights divergent views about multiculturalism, ranging from fears about security, to concern for universal human rights. One of his books on this topic, Multicultural Odysseys, recently won the North American Society for Social Philosophy Book Prize.
Another member, geographer James Dunn, runs an ongoing study of redevelopment in Regent Park, one of Toronto’s best-known efforts to provide low-cost housing. One of the products of Dunn’s research this year was a large report for Human Resources and Social Development Canada on Place-Based Policy that involved collaboration with program member Peter Evans and Neil Bradford who has been a guest at Program meetings.
In all cases, the members of the Successful Societies Program are bringing new thinking, often developed and refined in Program discussions, to familiar issues, in ways that will ultimately feed not only into new research agendas for the social sciences but into the policies of local governments and international agencies of crucial importance to social well-being in the contemporary age.